Michigan coach Juwan Howard wasn’t afraid to swing for the fences in his first year on the recruiting trail.
And even though he failed to connect on a pair of top 2020 prospects, Howard said the late misses won’t change his approach moving forward.
“When you take that game-winning shot and you miss, do you want the shot again? Do you want the ball in your hands?” Howard said on WTKA’s “The Michigan Insider” on Friday. “Michael Jordan always used to say how many have you missed, the game-winners, but also how many have you made? I'm going to go out there and (pursue) any player that I see that can really help move the needle for our program and fits our team and fits the Michigan mold of what we're about at Michigan.
“What we're about is guys that are high character, are great students and also perform well on the court. While saying all that, I don't care if you're a five-, four-, three-star, two-star (recruit), whatever that tag that they put on these kids, I'm going after a five-star or a four-star. It doesn't matter. If that kid fits Michigan, I'm going (after him).”
The Wolverines received a verbal commitment in October from five-star forward Isaiah Todd, who became Howard’s first pledge. They were also viewed as the favorite to land five-star guard Joshua Christopher, who received Howard’s first offer.
But within a span of 12 hours last week, Michigan was delivered a double dose of bad news. Christopher committed to Arizona State and Todd decommitted to sign with the NBA’s G League as the Wolverines came up empty in their pursuit of the two McDonald's All-Americans.
Michigan was also a finalist for another likely one-and-done talent: five-star forward Greg Brown III. However, Michigan faced an uphill battle in the race for the Austin native, who committed to Texas on Friday.
“I've heard the word no before and I'm sure I'm going to hear it again,” Howard said. “It would not distract me at all and it would not discourage me from continuing until I get that player that is going to help our program and help us win a championship someday.”
It was all part of a learning experience for Howard. He noted the toughest part in his first recruiting cycle was selling himself and his staff to players and their circles, which included parents, AAU coaches, high school coaches and other family members.
As the self-described “new kid on the block,” Howard didn’t have a long list of coaching credentials that included national championships, conference titles and years and years of experience like some of his competitors.
And it didn’t help that former NBA guys who transition into coaching, according to Howard, are viewed by some as people who don’t want to put in the time, don’t want to work and don’t fully understand everything that comes with the college game.
“You have to sell it and prove yourself,” Howard said. “I don't mind proving myself. I enjoy it. That's what makes basketball so fun, the challenges that you have to endure whether it’s as a player and as a coach.”
Despite the five-star misses, misconceptions and abbreviated timeline he had to work with, Howard put together Michigan’s first top-10 recruiting class since 2012 and signed a four-member group that ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports.
The class features a trio of top-100 prospects in four-star center Hunter Dickinson (No. 32 overall recruit), four-star guard Zeb Jackson (No. 69 recruit) and four-star forward Terrance Williams (No. 86 recruit) as well as three-star wing Jace Howard, Juwan’s son.
Howard’s haul also includes the offseason addition of graduate transfer Mike Smith, a point guard from Columbia who Howard called a “baller” and a “gamer.”
"I'm the type of guy that's always been known to roll up the sleeves and go to work,” Howard said. “I believe in the blue-collar way. That's the only way I know. Being the kid that grew up in the inner city of Chicago, I'm willing to take on any challenge. When I took the job here at the University of Michigan, everything was moving at a fast rate and I had to hit the ground running with recruiting. Me and my staff, we did our part in attacking the 2020 class and I think, overall, we're proud of all the hard work that we put in.
“We're happy that there are some kids who chose Michigan because they want to be here at Michigan and to be a student-athlete at Michigan. Those are the type of recruits that we are always targeting, the guys that want to be a part of Michigan. It's beautiful to see the players that we were able to sign and we're looking forward to those players arriving on campus whenever that time permits. I think they're going to enjoy being a University of Michigan student-athlete.”